If you’ve been a Christian for any significant length of time, you’ve likely attended a church and eventually left because you didn’t feel like you fit in there. For one reason or another, you didn’t really feel like you belonged anymore and left in search of a place that was a better fit for you. This likely hasn’t happened just once, but multiple times.
In one particular instance I recall for my wife and I, at the end of a few years it became obvious we were square pegs attempting to fit into round holes (as the saying goes).
Those holes had already been manufactured by others in the church that were there before us. We were given the impression that our presence would be welcomed to “re-shape” the church.
We realized after some time that what was desired wasn’t what we could individually and uniquely bring to the community. What was desired by the most influential in the group was for us to participate in ways that had already been decided by them. The plan was set. The strategy was in motion. You either fit in or you didn’t.
The ways in which people could participate wasn’t going to change based on the people that were present at any given time. The people that were present were going to participate in ways that would best serve the plan or go somewhere else. With this approach, “church growth” becomes an exercise in recruiting buy-in into how to participate.
We didn’t keep count, but my wife shared an observation that she felt like she heard the word “strategy” more than the word “Jesus” during our time there. I agreed. That may be an exaggeration, but it certainly felt that way. There was a real sense by many people that they were objectified as commodities. We certainly felt that way.
Churches are supposed to be organic environments
This is the type of environment that results from mechanical order thinking and it’s very common. People that operate with mechanical order treat the church as an object and attempt to program church order into being. As they do, they program the Life right out of it. They create plans that intend to control the future. When things happen, they always look at them in light of the plan that’s already been established and how they think the plan is being served.
Mechanical order works really, really well for manufacturing inanimate objects like cars and refrigerators.
But something with Life inside of it requires an environment of organic order.
In organic order, the Life of Christ leads the group through each individual in a unified way (I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4). This means the life and activities of the church emerge as an expression of the Spirit through each person’s uniqueness as they look to how they can participate for the good of the group as a whole. Not only do individuals need community to be healthy. Community needs each individuals’ unique contributions to be healthy.
People don’t want to be chess pieces
When one or a few people in a group take the mechanical order approach to control people’s participation to serve their agenda, they don’t necessarily do it out of ill will. They’re excited about what they’ve come up with and truly believe it will benefit anyone that gets involved. And because they think they know better than others, they think it reduces risk and is therefore safer for everyone.
The problem is people who will participate with their whole selves won’t operate that way. People that want to fully participate won’t be chess pieces.
They won’t fit into the holes that are made for them. So actually it’s the opposite. It’s riskier and more dangerous.
As Joseph Myers says in his book Organic Community…
When we limit people’s involvement to only what we see or confine them to using only the methods we deem relevant, we pigeonhole them and close ourselves off to a wealth of possibilities. We also imply that we don’t trust them. People are not interested in hearing us tell them how they must participate. Nor do they want us to consider what they offer to do as invalid because their gifts aren’t “on our list.” People would like the opportunity for their ideas, gifts, and personality to shape the group.
A many-but-one existence
What it means for a church to be organic and ordered by the Life of Christ is for each person’s participation to be aggregated (combined) together. Some people think this is getting a consensus on what should happen and how people should participate. But it’s different than that. Getting consensus is simply getting everyone to agree on something. That’s not what we should be shooting for.
While working to come to agreement is an important part of being a healthy community, the goal isn’t simply everyone agreeing. The goal is a group whose participation with each other isn’t just one or a few people’s plan that people agree to. The goal is a group whose participation with each other is an expression of everyone’s individual contributions combined.
The Lord designed us to be what Paul the apostle described…
For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (I Corinthians 12:12)
We’re looking for a many-but-one experience and existence that God designed the church to be, yet seems to be so elusive. This is what forms the image of Christ on the earth, which gets deeper and clearer the more people you can include.
How does this happen? Myers goes on to say…
The aggregate of participation becomes “known” as the team or group acts, thinks, and makes decisions (together).
How everyone can fit in
Expressing the Life of Christ is aggregating everyone’s individual and unique participation to result in activities that makes sense to the whole group. When we aggregate the expression of the Spirit through each person’s unique ways of participating, now the Body is One and expressing itself as such.
Now people aren’t looking for where they “fit in.” They determine together with all the parts what the “shape” of the church is, and this shape changes every time the individuals that are a part of it change. Everyone can fit in because they are part of determining the shape.
Each person, no matter if they’ve been a Christian for one second or for 30 years, brings their uniqueness to the church to participate in ways the Spirit empowers them to. A church that is being ordered by the Life of Christ respects this and aggregates everyone’s participation. This is what it means to be organic.
The rest of the posts in the What It Means To Be Organic series are here.